Crystal Kemp said she knew that she couldn't play scared against Northern Iowa's 6-foot-7 center, Cassie Hager, Thursday night in an opening-round WNIT game at Allen Fieldhouse.
The KU senior reasoned that if the Jayhawks were going to prove that they belonged in postseason play for the first time since 2000, she at the very least would have to prove she belonged in the post against UNI's standout senior.
"I shot 21 times," said a smiling Kemp, of her career-high 21 field-goal attempts. "I just let her know that I wasn't scared to shoot."
Led by Kemp's 18 points and 11 rebounds, the Jayhawks also let people know -- whether it was the Panthers or critics -- that Kansas indeed was a team deserving to play in the WNIT, as it defeated UNI, 59-49.
"I think it is important for a lot of reasons," said KU coach Bonnie Henrickson, whose squad improved to 17-12 and will play Ole Miss at 6 p.m. on Sunday in Allen Fieldhouse. "It was reward for the seniors. It's also a tremendous learning curve for some of our young girls."
Fellow senior Erica Hallman and freshman Marija Zinic each added 13 as the Jayhawks weathered a run from UNI before taking charge late in the contest. Fellow senior Kaylee Brown added 9.
UNI's Jessie Biggs scored 17 and grabbed 10 boards, while Hager added 11 and eight. The Panthers outrebounded KU 43-35, but KU held a 30-16 advantage in points in the paint.
Kemp said the victory was especially sweet considering how the last two games against Kansas State ended.
"Luckily, we were able to play into the tournament. Being able to have it at home was the best thing," she said. "We didn't want to come in here on our home court and lose."
Henrickson said while Thursday's contest was hard-fought, KU will need even more energy against the 16-13 Rebels.
"It is actually good because it gives us two days instead of one day," Henrickson said. "Ole Miss is tremendously athletic. They have speed at every position. They play a different style than we faced here tonight. We have two days, the kids should be ready, the staff is excited. If everyone brings two of their closest friends we should have it rocking in here (Allen Fieldhouse)."
Second Half Action
Kansas opened the scoring in the second half when Erica Hallman found Crystal Kemp in the lane for an easy lay-in that gave KU a four-point lead over Northern Iowa Thursday night in its WNIT game at Allen Fieldhouse.
UNI guard Sarah Larsen responded with three to cut the contest to one.
After a few minutes that produced no points for either team, Cassie Hager scored down low to give N. Iowa the lead once again.
Moments later UNI's Traci Ollendieck came up with a steal and uncontested lay-up. Teammate Jeesie Biggs hit a jumper on the baseline to put the Panthers up five.
With 15:46 left in the game Hallman ended the Jayhawks scoring drought.
Another jumper by Hallman and a bucket by Kemp cut UNI's lead to 33-31 with 13:45.
But two scores and a free throw by Hager put UNI back on top 37-31 with 12 and a half to go.
KU's Marija Zinic hit a short jumper to help the Jayhawks keep pace with the Panthers.
Kemp cut the contest to two with a move underneath and the Jayhawks forced the Panthers to throw the ball away on their ensuing possesion.
A jumper from just inside the circle by Hallman tied the game at 39-all with 10:00 minutes to go.
UNI's Tara King put the Panthers back on top with a short shot.
Zinic missed a shot in the lane, collected her own rebounded before scoing and getting fouled by Hager. Her free throw with 9:00 left put KU back on top 40-39.
King hit two charities to put UNI up one.
Kemp hit a turnaround jumper over Hager to put KU up one with under seven to play. The KU senior grabbed UNI's missed shot, then scored on a drive at the other end to put KU up 44-41 with 6:12 to go.
A nice interior pass from Kemp to Zinich put KU up 48-43 with just over four minutes to play.
Zinic scored on the inside, before Brown added a three-pointer from the left corner to put Kansas up 53-44 with under three minutes to play.
Ollendieck hit a three and scored on the inside after a steal to cut KU's lead to 55-49 with just under a minute left.
Brown hit a pair of free throws and Catic came up with a steal.
Brown was fouled again and hit two more charities to pu KU up 59-49.
UNI frantically fired threes in the final seconds but KU will win 59-49.
Neither team shot well in the first half as KU fired at just a 32-percent mark and UNI hit at only a 28-percent clip. The Jayhawks were led by Crystal Kemp's eight points, while Erica Hallman added seven. UNI's Cassie Hager scored seven points as the Panthers outrebounded KU 26-17.
First Half Action
Kansas won the tip but came away scoreless on its first possession in its WNIT game against Northern Iowa Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse because of an offensive foul.
Panther Traci Ollendieck got UNI on the scoreboard with a three from the right wing.
KU senior Crystal Kemp answered with a jumper in the key to cut the deficit to one.
Jayhawk freshman Ivana Catic gave Kansas its first lead on a fancy drive.
UNI went up by one once again, but a baseline jumper by Kemp put KU in the lead, 6-5.
Ollendieck hit another three from the right side, but Erica Hallman followed with a trey from the left corner for the 9-8 advantage going into the firs timeout.
With 14:44 on the clock, Taylor McIntosh scored on a feed from Catic in the lane and was fouled. The sophomore missed the free throw, but KU took an 11-8 lead on the basket.
A free throw by UNI cut the contest to one before Hallman hit a jumper off a nice cross-over move.
The Panthers' 6-foot-7 center Cassie Hager put UNI ahead, 13-12, on a basket down low.
Kemp another midrange jumper to put the Jayhawks ahead with a little more than 10 minutes left in the half.
Kemp hit another baseline jumper, this time from the left side, to extend Kansas' lead to 17-14 with six and a half minutes left.
Hager scored in the lane and was fouled. The charity by the UNI center tied the contest with 5:18 left.
Hallman got a shot to fall off a couple of kind bounces to put Kansas ahead 19-17.
Tara King hit a shot off glass to tie the contest with a little more than three minutes left.
With 2:07 on the clock, KU's Kaylee Brown equalled the number of points she's scored in the Jayhawks last two contests when she took a the ball coast-to-coast for a lay-in for the lead.
Marija Zinic made a pair of free throws with 39 seconds left to put KU up 23-19.
Hager added her seventh points on an easy bucket in the post.
KU called a timout with 21.9 left, but couldn't add to its lead as the Jayhawks went into the break up 23-21.
Kansas University seniors Erica Hallman and Crystal Kemp were none too fond of talking about what could have potentially been their last collegiate game after another setback to in-state rival Kansas State last week in the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas.
But on Monday the two, along with KU's other senior Kaylee Brown, were elated when they found out they would be extending their season in Lawrence when KU (16-12) hosts Northern Iowa (19-9) in a WNIT game at 7 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
"This is unfamiliar territory, but one I'm excited about," said Hallman of a Jayhawk program, that has made a ton of strides since finishing 0-16 in the Big 12 the year before Hallman arrived on campus. "It's been a roller-coaster year," Hallman continued. "Now we have to take (the WNIT) as a new season."
The postseason appearance is Kansas' first since 2000 and 17th in school history.
"We're thrilled with the opportunity," KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said Monday night, minutes after learning KU will play in the WNIT. "These kids are awfully, awfully happy."
KU has never played in the WNIT under its current format, but did play in the NWIT twice -- in 1978 and 1991 -- when it was an eight-team tournament. The NWIT later went to 16 teams until its final year of 1996. There was no NWIT tournament in 1997. In 1998, the tournament was brought back under the new name WNIT and in 1999, the field expanded to 32 teams. This year, the tournament has expanded to 40 teams.
The Jayhawks enter the postseason led by their seniors, who are all having their finest seasons in a Jayhawk uniform. Kemp ranks 22nd in the country with an average of 18.8 points per game to go with 8.3 boards per contest. Hallman is second in scoring with 14.2 points per game and leads the team with 58 three-pointers made. Brown averages 11.3 points per outing while knocking down 55 treys.
Northern Iowa is led by All-Missouri Valley First Team and Defensive Player of the Year Cassie Hager. The 6-7 senior center from Perry, Iowa, averages 16.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 blocked shots per game. She shoots 52.8 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free throw line.
Panthers Junior forward Tara King checks in with 14.3 points and 6.0 boards per contest. Junior guard Jessie Biggs posts 9.7 points and a team-best 3.8 assists per outing.